Slinky shake experiment science experiment : Fizzics Education


Slinky shake experiment

Slinky shake experiment

Follow FizzicsEd 150 Science Experiments:

You will need:

One metal slinky

Two people and a bit of room


Slinky shake science experiment - metal slinky
1 Slinky shake science experiment by Holly SciFest Africa Grahamstown March 2015

Two people hold the ends of a slinky and walk about five meters apart.

2 Slinky shake science experiment - shorter wavelengths

One person moves the slinky end up and down whilst the other person holds their end steady.

3 Slinky shake science experiment - longer wavelengths

Watch the slinky – how many waves form in between the two people?

What happens if you go faster or slower? How many ways can you make the wave travel?

4 A television screen showing a distance educator running science experiment with a bell jar, vacuum pump and a cup of water. There is an inset of a remote class on the screen and a video conference camera on top of the television.
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Why Does This Happen?

Sound energy travels in waves along a material.
This material vibrates so that the energy can move from one place to another.
Look at the animation below:

Animation by Dr Dan Russell

Notice that the particles move up and down, but they don’t travel with the wave itself?
This illustrates the important point that most waves are an energy transfer, not a material transfer.
Think of people standing in a line and jumping up and down:

Animation by Dr Dan Russell

The people dont move with the wave, but they help to pass the wave along.
This type of wave is known as a transverse wave.

There are a number of waves that can be created by the slinky.
One of which is a standing wave.
Standing waves can be found in a tube that has been hit on a surface.
In this wave some of the slinky was moving rapidly and some locations were not moving at all.
The locations that were not moving are known as nodes.
The locations that move the most are known as antinodes.

Animation by Dr Dan Russell

Sound that radiates through the air (or liquids) travels in a more complex fashion.
The animation above represents a transverse wave where the material up and down only.
See below for another demonstration that represents sound travelling through air.

Try stretching the slinky between two people. One person now does short, sharp, pushing motions forwards with their slinky end toward the other person. You should see the spring send pulses of ‘contracted spring’ backwards and forwards throughout the slinky. This is more like how sound travels through air. Note that as the ‘contracted pulse’ moves backwards and forwards the slinky does the same movement, i.e. moving backwards and forwards locally as well. This represents kinetic (moving) energy being passed from air molecule to air molecule, allowing the sound to move through the air with small local disturbances in the air as the sound passes through the area. See below for an animation:

Animation by Dr Dan Russell

Look at the animation and pick a ‘particle’ to observe. This is called a longitudinal wave.
Think of when a deep, low, sound from a loud stereo or subwoofer ‘hits’ your chest. The local air surrounding your body pushes into you as the energy from the waves reaches you. Of course, this doesn’t mean that ALL of the air around the stereo moved to where you are standing 30 metres away, just that the energy propagating through the air disturbed that air locally around you. In essence, air (or liquid) is continually introduced and removed from the local area.

Check out the animation below from a single point source of sound, with the sound energy travelling radially around the sound source, similar to what happens with a boxed loudspeaker.

Animation by Dr Dan Russell

Variables to test

More on variables here

  • Try a plastic slinky instead.
  • How many standing waves can you form as you speed up shaking the slinky?
  • What happens if you try a different type of spring?
  • If you shake the slinky side to side, doe the waves still form?

Learn more!


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